Psychologists can play an essential role in designing, implementing and evaluating integrated health-care models, and Congress should support more initiatives that promote such care, including the Positive Aging Act of 2007 (S. 982/H.R. 1669), said University of Michigan psychology professor Toni Antonucci, PhD, at a May 15 congressional briefing.

The event was hosted by APA, the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP), the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the Older Women's League and more than 20 other groups, in cooperation with Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

The briefing provided an important interdisciplinary forum for leaders in the aging and mental health fields to talk with policy-makers about some of the issues that are most important to older Americans.

Among the best ways to improve the health of this population is to provide integrated health care, said Antonucci, co-chair of the APA Presidential Task Force on Integrative Healthcare for an Aging Population convened by Past-president Sharon Stephens Brehm, PhD. Antonucci discussed the task force report, which recommends that health-care providers embrace an interdisciplinary model of care in which teams of professionals--from psychologists and pharmacists to physicians and nurses--work together to devise treatment plans for each patient. On such teams, no one member is "the leader;" rather, members share leadership and power and bring their own expertise to the table to maximize patient care.

Also speaking at the event were:

  • AAGP President-elect Charles Reynolds, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh, who discussed the shortage of health-care workers in the geriatric field. He cited his work on the Institute of Medicine's Committee on Future Health Care Workforce for Older Americans report, which calls for the immediate training of all health-care providers in the basics of geriatric care and for better preparing family members and other caregivers to tend to aging loved ones. Reynolds also recommended that Congress support the Caring for an Aging America Act of 2008 (S. 2708), which proposes a loan repayment program for health-care professionals, including psychologists, who work with older adults.

  • NASW's Senior Government Relations Associate James Finley discussed parity for Medicare outpatient mental health services. He argued that the current co-payment is a burden on many older adults and people with disabilities. He urged Congress to eliminate the 50 percent co-insurance for mental health services by supporting the Medicare Mental Health Copayment Equity Act of 2007 (S. 1715).

  • Ashley Carson, JD, the executive director of the Older Women's League, highlighted an innovative project that her organization is working on with APA members Peter Lichtenberg, PhD, of Wayne State University and chair of APA's Committee on Aging, and Sara Honn Qualls, PhD, of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. The project aims to educate and train mental health gatekeepers, such as nursing assistants, to identify mental health problems and make appropriate referrals.

Diane L. Elmore, PhD, MPH, is senior legislative and federal affairs officer in PI-GRO and co-director of APA' s Congressional Fellowship Program.

Aging in America
About 20 percent of older Americans have a mental health problem, the most common being anxiety disorders, cognitive impairment and depression. These disorders can be linked to poor health, higher health-care utilization and cost, increased caregiver stress, and premature death from suicide or other causes. In fact, suicide rates for men 65 and older are higher than any other age group and are more than twice the national rate for all other age groups. 

Further Reading

A copy of the report from the APA Presidential Task Force on Integrative Healthcare for an Aging Population appears at www.apa.org/pi/aging/blueprint.html.